Best Places to Raise Kids: Los Alamos, New Mexico

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, came to notoriety in the 1940s when the federal government chose its remote mountain location as the assembly site of the Manhattan Project, the atomic bombs that ended World War II. Everything about the town was classified until after the bombing of Hiroshima, and these days, the secret is out: This town ranks as one of the top places in the U.S. to raise kids, especially for families with scientific minds.

High-Achieving Schools

While many public schools in the state of New Mexico rank poorly in national polls, Los Alamos High received a Gold ranking from U.S. News and World Report for being one of the best schools in the nation. It also ranks as the third best school in New Mexico. The Los Alamos school district, the only public school system in New Mexico to meet the highest level of accreditation within the rigorous AdvancED process—a rare achievement at the national level—focuses heavily on academics but also emphasizes a well-rounded education. With its broad offering of Advanced Placement classes, foreign languages, music education, and 31 percent minority enrollment, families looking for a diverse school environment need look no further than this small town in New Mexico.

Scientifically Minded

Home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, this mountain town has a population of nearly 18,000, and 63 percent of its adults hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. White-collar nuclear laboratory jobs in the area provide stability and higher-than-average salaries, with the median income just over $106,000. If you’d like your children exposed to highly educated adults, there’s no shortage of those with a master’s degree or Ph.D.

Outdoor Playground

At an elevation of 7,355 feet, the town and its surrounding mountain areas provide numerous opportunities for hiking, camping, biking, and winter sports. Bandelier National Monument, the Santa Fe National Forest, and Pajarito Mountain Ski Area are all within a few miles of town, and more ambitious skiers can find expert terrain at Taos Ski Valley, just under two hours away. The moderate climate offers summer highs averaging around 80 degrees Fahrenheit and winter lows averaging in the 40s. If you’re looking for city amenities, you can find them nearby: The state capital of Albuquerque is located 90 miles south of town.

Culture in a Small Town

Northern New Mexico is home to some of the premier artists in the country. Kids in Los Alamos have exposure to the Fuller Lodge Art Center—which offers galleries and art classes for adults, too—and are only a short, 45-minute drive away from the art and culture scene in Santa Fe. A number of art festivals, camps, and lectures occur year round, balancing out the research and laboratory scene.

Affordable Mountain Living

While New Mexico does have state income tax (1.7-4.9 percent), it generally ranks as one of the most tax-friendly states in the nation. And the state’s property taxes are among the lowest in the country. As for the town, median home prices fall around $250,000, which is higher than in most of the state but still affordable relative to income. If your family is looking for help with higher education costs, New Mexico offers the Legislative Lottery Scholarship program, which pays a percentage of tuition at all public colleges and universities in the state for students who maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average.

Affordable mountain living, access to great public schools, availability of high-paying jobs, and a culture of science and education make Los Alamos, New Mexico, a winner in the search for the best places to raise kids in the U.S.